Among the things history is said to teach us is that technology will continue to change the very nature of how we work, think and communicate. This constant trek forward repeatedly promises us that technology will deliver us to our utopian future where all things become better, faster and easier. With this future-oriented progression, older, obsolete tools and methods must give way and eventually disappear, never to be seen again, or if they are lucky, dispatched to museums.
In this historical model, the letterpress was destined to go quietly and unceremoniously into extinction as other printing technologies surpassed it. This process, was documented, with a fair amount of anxiety and despair, in the film Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu (https://vimeo.com/127605643) which chronicles the demise of traditional letterpress used at the New York Times, taken out of service on Sunday July 2nd, 1978. And as recently as 15 years ago, letterpress equipment such as lead and wood type and innumerable presses were being given away or simply discarded. Tons of highly specialized letterpress equipment were scrapped, melted down and recycled.
But in recent years, with the rise of polymer plates and a new generation looking to counter all things digital, letterpress has seen a fantastic resurrection. Small, individually owned presses have sprung up all over the states, and it has become common to find a press brought back into service in your town, city or area. These new and usually younger pressmen and presswomen find themselves in the mist of an exciting new community of creative artists and designers.
The Hamilton Wood Type Museum and documentaries such as Typeface, Linotype, and the soon-to-be-released Pressing On have all contributed to the resurgence of the letterpress community. On my Instagram account, I follow no less than 20 letterpress aficionados that keep my feed full of new and exciting experimental creations. Some, but not all of the inspirational artist/designers I follow are:
Baltimore Print Studio
The Counter Press
Flying Horse Editions
Hatch Show Print
Old City Press
One Strong Arm
People of Print
The Private Press
The Print Project
Studio on Fire
Virgin Wood Type
And then there’s the Saguache Crescent. No YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram account. No Twitter, Tumblr or flickr feeds, just an old-school, barebones snail-mail address and phone number. Family-owned and operated for more than 135 years, this weekly newspaper is located in the small (and I mean small) town of Saguache in the San Juan Valley of Colorado, 2-1/2 hours south/southwest of Denver.
I first heard of the Crescent on the CBS’ Sunday Morning show (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-colorado-newspaper-thats-also-a-time-machine) in 2014. The paper has been published by the Coombs family since 1917, and at age 27, Dean Coombs took over the paper from his parents in 1978. Since then, Mr. Coombs’ has been working seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Mr. Coombs explains “it’s the last weekly newspaper that is printed, regularly via letterpress in the United States, if not the world.” 1
I had the good fortune to visit Mr. Coombs this past summer while driving from Denver to Salt Lake City. Saguache, Colorado is far from a major tourist destination, but from my perspective it was a place that I absolutely wanted to see and experience for myself.
Contacting Mr. Coombs can be tricky in the modern sense, he doesn’t do email and finding the right phone number can be a long search. If you’re lucky enough to catch him between all his other duties–owner, operator, publisher, editor, typesetter, (on two very old linotype machines) repair man, delivery man and printer of the paper by himself for more than 37 years–Mr. Coombs will cheerfully invite you to stop by! And if you get there and can’t find him, you just need to “check with the gift shop on the corner, they’ll know how to find me.”
The Saguache Crescent building sits on east side of a three-block town. Its vibrant yellow façade is both cheerful and inviting. As you cross the threshold of the doorway, you are transported back in time. Shards of lead coat the floor; stacks of papers, boxes and a charming sense of chaos fill the cavernous space. Piles of notes, announcements and requests clutter Mr. Coombs’s desk and/or any flat service around it! Amidst the chaos sits a series of beautifully aligned and meticulously placed tools illuminated on a sundrenched wall, a reflection of craft, dedication and heart. It’s a craft Mr. Coombs has devoted his life to—“It’s got to be a life, it’s got to be your life.” 2
The paper itself is full of important stories, posts and announcements that have become the lifeblood of this small community. The positive vibe of the paper is a reflection of Mr. Coombs’s demeanor. He describes the Crescent as a “good newspaper” and doesn’t really print bad news–he leaves that stuff for others. Scanning a recent edition, you get the sense of how tight and close knit this community really is. Articles are upbeat and entertaining, ranging from health issues “Go Nuts for Nuts at 4th St. Foods” to politics “Marijuana Meeting” to simple reminders that “Christmas is Coming.”
Every other week I receive my papers (2 editions come together) via U.S. Mail, and I try to catch up on what’s happening in Saguache, Colorado, more than 2000 miles away. While I read about the latest events and happenings, I develop a strange sense of “connection” to a place I’ve only visited once and unfortunately will probably never see again. I know who’s birthday it was last week, who died, who graduated and who visited—all of which I can’t say about my own neighborhood!
This odd “connection” comes at a ridiculously low cost of $18 per year for those of you who are out-of-state, with classified ads costing 20¢ per word (with a $2 minimum) for 1st insertion and 10¢/word for each additional week. I think a subscription or a personalized ad would make a great holiday gift to the letterpress enthusiast on your list.
Interested persons should write to:
Publisher Dean Coombs
The Saguache Crescent
P.O. Box 195
Saguache, Colorado 81149
Or call 719.655.2620.